Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker’s administration initiated a major shake-up at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield Friday, firing a top administrator who questioned the authenticity of a stovepipe hat that purportedly belonged to Lincoln.
Without explanation, the governor’s office terminated the facility’s $175,000-a-year executive director, Alan Lowe, who was hired in 2016 with a strong scholarly pedigree.
“The administration terminated Mr. Lowe’s employment today,” Pritzker spokeswoman Emily Bittner wrote in a statement Friday afternoon. “We cannot comment on personnel matters. We look forward to working with the team of museum professionals, historians and librarians at the [facility] to ensure that the institution is meeting its high standards.”
Before coming to Springfield, Lowe worked at presidential libraries for Ronald Reagan, Franklin Roosevelt and George W. Bush.
But his tenure at the Lincoln museum was marked by clashes with the private foundation that acquires artifacts for the facility.
Last year, Lowe criticized officials with the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation for withholding long-secret reports it had commissioned from historians at the Smithsonian and Chicago History museums – and even the FBI – regarding the authenticity of a stovepipe hat the foundation owns.
The foundation has long claimed the hat, appraised in 2007 at $6.5 million, belonged to Lincoln. But historians and forensic scientists at the FBI who did DNA testing on the hat concluded there was no evidence to tie it to the nation’s 16th president.
WBEZ’s disclosure of those reports resulted in an embarrassment for the foundation, which regarded the hat as the crown jewel of its collection of Lincolniana.
Lowe, who kept the hat from being displayed at the museum, did not respond to WBEZ’s request for comment Friday.
His termination came as the foundation disclosed to WBEZ that it intends to put off plans for an auction of Lincoln artifacts. Last year, the group said without taxpayer assistance, an auction would be necessary to pay off the $9.7 million balance on a loan taken out to acquire the hat and other artifacts in 2007.
Earlier this year, Pritzker put the kibosh on a taxpayer bailout of the foundation. A top aide to the Democratic governor insisted Friday that neither he nor the foundation that he and his wife control were weighing philanthropic contributions to the Lincoln foundation to pay off its loan.
Dave McKinney covers state politics for WBEZ. Follow him on Twitter @davemckinney.